Today is World Manta Day, which celebrates both the manta and devil rays and raises awareness about their conservation status. This year’s theme is Education, and this is exactly what you’ll get if you visit the World Manta Day website – a lesson on mantas.
Did you know that although they are huge in size, mantas feed on zooplankton, which are microscopic animals? The website also states that “Manta rays are close relatives of all sharks and rays, meaning they have a skeleton made of cartilage rather than bone”.
Another fun fact is that female mantas give birth to a single pup after 12.5 months of gestation, so this is one of the reasons why we need to do our best to conserve these animals.
If you’re interested in learning more about these gentle marine creatures, one of the best places to see them live in “action” is in the Maldives.
Here are some tips from Lynn Jula Kessler, a marine biologist at Outrigger Maldives Maafushivaru Resort, on how best to view manta rays in the island.
1. Best time
The manta rays’ migration pattern is dominated by the two monsoon seasons in the Maldives. From December to May, mantas can be found more frequently on the western atolls. From June to November, it’s the eastern sites. In South Ari Atoll (which is near the Outrigger Maldives Maafushivaru Resort), the manta rays don’t leave the atoll when the monsoon is changing so a year-round sighting is highly possible.
2. Prepare yourself
Get your hands on a book called Guide To Manta And Devil Rays, which gives an overview of all the manta species known to science, with helpful identification keys. There’s also the Secret Life Of Manta Rays, co-authored by Dr Guy Stevens, founder of the Manta Trust. This book has stunning photographs and interesting insights to the conservation efforts. If you’re not into reading, then check out Seaspiracy on Netlix to learn more about overfishing, one of the biggest threats to manta ray populations around the world.
3. Don’t get too close
Manta rays are very curious by nature. Try to stay at a radius of between 3m and 4m. However, because of the mantas’ inquisitive nature, they sometimes do come closer to you. If or when this happens, stay as calm as possible. However, don’t try to touch a manta ray as they are not tactile animals and get scared when touched.
4. Photography tip
Be sure to bring a camera that you already know how to properly use, as your encounter with a manta may be very short and you don’t want to wast any time fiddling with your settings. A GoPro is usually your best bet to capturing great pictures and videos.
5. Social media
There are plenty of channels and accounts to follow on Instagram if you would like to know more about manta rays. Some of them include: Manta Trust (@mantatrust), Maldivian Manta Ray Project (@maldianmantaproject) and OZONE Maafushivaru (@ozone_maafushivaru).